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Too Many Cooks: Childhood Lunches

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You'll be hearing from the staff at Food52 in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.

There is a lot about growing up and going to school that is semi-traumatic: The time you called your male teacher "Dad"; the time you got a nose bleed in math class; the time you sat in ketchup in the cafeteria; and every time you had to change into your gym uniform. Many of these moments inevitably happened in the lunch room, when you opened your bag to reveal something sour-smelling and foreign-sounding. "Mooooooom," you would groan under your breath, with a dramatic eye roll.

In honor of the month of September and forgiveness exercises and some happy school memories, too, we asked the Food52 staffers:  

What did you take to school for lunch as a child? Did you pack your own lunch, or did someone else do the honors? 

Were you the cool kid with Dunkaroos, or were you the one trying to trade in baby carrots and boxed raisins for Lunchables and Oreos? Tell us in the comments!

Danny: My Daddy used to pack me bologna-mustard sandwiches and a box of Yoo-Hoo. It's okay guys -- I turned out fine.

Posie: Sensitive subject for me: For years I tried to steal bites of Lunchables and Dunkaroos and Gushers and pizza bagels. But the closest thing we had to processed food in our house was Shredded Wheat. My mom is a farmer who milks a cow every day and she made everything from scratch (from bread to cheese) which was super, super embarrassing at the time. (And it's funny because that's so cool now.)

All four of us kids packed our own lunches together every morning; often my mom would make pizza dough the night before and let us put on our own toppings to take for lunch -- that was the best thing. And I almost always took whole strawberries with a little Tupperware of powdered sugar for dipping as my dessert.

More: Maybe you don't milk cows regularly, but you can still pack homemade pizza dough for your kids (or yourself).

Gabriella P: Posie, I'm with you! My parents were both foreign and health food-obsessed, so most lunchtimes played out like the Moussaka scene in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." All I wanted were Lunchables. We eventually reached a middle ground with prosciutto sandwiches.

Merrill: We ate school lunch (and yes, my favorite was alphabet soup and grilled cheese day), but if we had a field trip or something, my mom would pack cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches on white Pepperidge Farm thin-sliced white bread. Another specialty was bologna and cottage cheese roll-ups. Sounds gross, but it was actually kind of perfect.

Amanda: My mother used to pack peanut butter, butter, and jelly sandwiches -- PBBJs, as we called them. Definitely an improvement on the original, especially if you use salted butter. 


Jackie: My mom was big into cream cheese and jelly sandwiches on challah. It's kind of just like eating dessert. 

Lauren K: My mom made me lunch every day -- I hated being one of the only kids who brought lunch, but in hindsight -- great job, Mom! She often made me chicken salad sandwiches with avocado on this amazing pillowy Japanese bread that I think is called shokupan -- it comes in a perfect rectangle and the pieces are about 3/4-inch thick. 

Erin: In elementary school, I was ostracized by my friends at lunch due to my extreme love of cilantro. I ate it like lettuce on my sandwiches, which was widely regarded as gross (but seriously, try it -- it's not just for bán mìh). On rare and special occasions, my mom would pack me her homemade salsa and tortilla chips; those had very high trade value in the lunchroom (biggest score ever was six Oreos for one chip with salsa).

More: Make your own oven-baked tortilla chips and you just might be able to trade up in the lunch room, too.

Then the conversation devolved into a discussion on Dunkaroos...

Marian: I never got Dunkaroos. I always wanted Dunkaroos.

Emi: I was never allowed to have Dunkaroos. Or Fruit Roll-Ups. Or Fruit by the Foot. Or Lunchables. Or Cup Noodles. I'd always try to trade in my Asian pears but my friends had no idea what they were. Only on very special occasions did I get a Milano. 

Will: My parents were considerably more mainstream than what seems to be the going rate here. I showered in Dunkaroos. It explains so much... 

Amanda: Can someone explain what Dunkaroos are? 

How do you feel about Dunkaroos? Share in the comments below!

Snack Attack! Survive any snack attack.
Snack Attack! Survive any snack attack.

Tags: Back to School, Food52 Life, Too Many Cooks, Behind The Scenes